Once upon a time, a traveler came upon two men who were hard at work, building a long wall. The location, dimensions, and materials had all been marked out very carefully. The two men were working separately—one at each end of the ongoing construction.

The traveler approached the first man and asked, “What are you building?”

Straightening up from his work, the man looked at the traveler with tired distain and said, “Can’t you see? I’m working on this wall. I was working on it yesterday; I’ll be working on it tomorrow.

“All I ever do is work on this wall—and it seems to go on endlessly. And please don’t ask me any more questions because I can’t answer them. My job is to build this wall, not answer your silly questions.

“And another thing—I don’t care. I don’t care about this wall, or about why it is being built, or how long it is going to take, or how much it will cost. I can hardly wait for Friday afternoon because then I can go home and get some rest until I have to come back here on Monday and build this wall.”

The traveler waved his hand in recognition of the long answer, and turned to go—but seeing the other man, at the far end of the wall, he decided to try his question on him.

Once again he asked, “What are you building?” The man straightened up and looked at him and smiled. “I, sir,” he said, grandly motioning with his trowel, “am helping to build a new cathedral. This is the eastern wall that will catch the morning light.

“From where you are standing you will be able to look up at a massive vaulted ceiling that will recreate the heavens, and everyone who comes here, for generations—perhaps even my own grandchildren, if I am ever so blessed—will be inspired and say, “My grandfather helped to create this amazing place!”

Of course it is just a story—a parable, really. It’s been told many times, in many ways.  Very few of us are actually building walls, but we do create the framework for how we explain, understand, appreciate, and value our work—and how we spend our lives.

Martha Washington, our first First Lady, summarized this great truth in a letter she wrote to a friend, “I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”

If a traveler was to happen upon you today, how would you answer the question “What are you building?”